Planning – The Moral Dimension

Mediatel Newsline has been carrying some excellent editorial pieces recently around the topic of media strategy. The latest, from Nick Manning is here; all credit to Mediatel for giving over the space to this debate. It is quite a contrast to the old ‘Agency X in trading dispute with Broadcaster Y’ that passed as the hot debating topic of the day within the media world and which featured so regularly in ‘Campaign’.

The strategic planning issues faced by agencies these days are complex and go far beyond arguments over maximising reach, frequency caps, wear-in, wear-out and the rest. There is a moral dimension too.

There’s also the matter of objectivity and trust. The dilemma is – where to draw the line between advertisers interfering in editorial freedoms, and supporting a channel that seems to consider itself apart from common laws of decency.

Imagine this.

An online platform that measures its own audiences. That avoids external examination and validation. That makes errors in calculations, some of which it corrects, some of which it doesn’t. After all, if nobody notices or challenges the data, who cares? Truth and objectivity?

A channel some of whose staff are so concerned about what they see as their management’s priorities that they would rather jump ship, giving up a no doubt well-paid position to blow the whistle.

A channel that self-regulates, that ignores restrictions on such as political advertising that apply to other media forms.

An organisation that uses the data provided by its users to trap the gullible in a web of dis-information, and then hides behind complex terms and conditions that no-one reads, and details of the privacy options available that are so full of jargon that few bother with them.

A platform, not, please note, a publisher, that avoids taking responsibility for the content that it publishes.

A channel funded by advertisers – many of whom are busy promoting the importance of corporate responsibility, of behaving with a sense of civil purpose, of supporting civil liberties, diversity, inclusion and so on.

Would these advertisers condone lying in their copy? Would they continue running material that offends or even harms some of their audience?

No of course they wouldn’t.

So why on earth do they continue to support these platforms?

We can go further. What if ads on these channels were shown not to attract attention? What if ads on them simply don’t work a lot of the time? What if the ads that do work on them are of a very specific type – reminder messages for example, or direct response?

Why do major brand builders continue to use them to ‘build their brands’?

Let’s recap. False audience data. Misuse of data. No responsibility for the content that appears. Ineffective for brand building.

If anyone reading this plans campaigns for a living they would surely not use these media.

And yet they do.

It really isn’t good enough to say: ‘that’s where you find the audience’. Who says so? Who validates that data? And is ‘audience’ just a one-dimensional number – a gross impression, in the vernacular.

Plus – it’s not the only place to find the audience. They use multiple media forms, as we all know.

Nor is it professional to say: ‘our client mandates it’. Maybe so, but many clients would also mandate smaller ads, larger logos and using the wife’s cousin in the ad. We argue against them because we know from experience, from years of looking at data, we know what works.

Except, in media we apparently don’t; or if we do we keep quiet about it and settle for an easy life doing what our clients want as opposed to what they need.

Media strategising is full of tough calls, but those that do it can be and should be the voice of reason on how the client’s money is spent. It’s up to them to raise effectiveness concerns, even moral concerns.

They won’t always be listened to, they certainly won’t always win the day but they owe it to themselves and to the business they’re in to try.

  1. Good point Brian. As they say ‘you are the company you keep’. Many brands would rather be part of signaling, than part of meaningful change. Change is difficult it is brave, it is seldom as easy as saying something in an ad.

  2. Thanks, and yes I agree. I think many try and trying is at least better than nothing!

  3. Well said Brian – and yet their ilk continue to devour a greater portion of spend every year – why? It is so easy to book, make changes, AB TEST etc and ‘measure’ and you pay for what response you get – while deeply unfair versus non digital the user experience wins every time!

  4. A mix of ‘do what others do’, great C-suite connections, figures nobody challenges (or rather few challenge), and the old IBM syndrome (nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM).
    But maybe the tide is turning, at last!

  5. Spot on Brian!
    What will eventually kill Facebook is not its ability to reinforce people’s nastiest opinions to the point of criminal behaviour, but when the marketing world realises it doesn’t actually work as an advertising medium in terms of return on investment. Marketers are conned into believing digital is effective because they confuse coincidence with causation; all it’s really doing is preaching to the choir and then assuming the fact the choir go on to sing another hymn with gusto is down to them. Advertising these days is therefore skewed towards heavy users, and the only way you sell to heavy users of a product category is by discounting your product. This is a thousand miles from ‘adding brand value’. But it is gradually being found out, and when the big spenders move out they’re dead.

  6. Thanks Mike and yes I agree. Plus – I hope you’re doing well?

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